Sunday, December 29, 2013

C-T Scan


The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for this week is titled "Feline Finder" and I imagined that we might be looking for cats somehow sCATtered (get it?) around the grid, or some such gimmick as that, but of course I was wrong.  Well mostly wrong at least, because there is one CAT in the grid but that's just incidental to the theme which turns out to be one of Frank's favorite CATegories - it's a riddle!

When the grid is complete we find we have a five-part riddle and a two-part answer and the whole thing is of course a horrible pun - not bad enough to be a total CATastrophe but it didn't leave me CATatonic with laughter, either:

24a - WHEN MY SILKY-HAIRED
27a - PET CAT GOT
43a - LOST WHAT IS THE NAME
71a - OF THE ORGANIZATION
97a - I GOT IN CONTACT WITH?

119a-THE BUREAU
121a-OF MISSING PERSIANS!

Horrible grammar aside, I admire the lengths to which Frank had to go to make the pun work, and the parts of the riddle were each inferrable enough to be filled in without having all the crosswords in place, so that's good.  I have to say, though, that PETCATGOT looks pretty strange sitting there in the grid; it looks kind of like a word in search of a definition but a quick google of the term produced over a million hits, all as partial parts of a longer sentence or phrase - some of them are pretty entertaining (and bizarre) by themselves.

I just noticed a feature of the puzzle which is either a really strange coincidence or Frank is far more clever, and devious, than I suspected.  The letter "C" appears six times in the grid and each and every time it is adjacent, up, down or diagonally, to the letter "T".  Since a C-T (Computed Tomography)Scan is commonly referred to as a "CAT Scan", the whole grid works as a "word-search" puzzle where the "Feline Finder" involves locating and circling the six C-Ts in the grid. Really, try it - it works! I'm probably the only solver to have discovered this ingeniously implanted sub-theme of the puzzle - or maybe I'm imagining things again. I'll let you decide.

Miscellaneous thoughts about other stuff I noticed:

- The puzzle serves as a post-Christmas tribute to the Jolly Old Soul himself, with an ODETO SANTA (73d - "__to Billy Joe" and 109d - Annual toy toter) appearing in the grid.

- I have numerous dogs in my lifetime but I never knew that a SPITZ is a "Pointy-eared, stock dog" (48d). Do you suppose that Mr. Spock's name derives from that that fact?

- It took me far too long to realize that "LI times two" (41a) refers to a Roman numeral that when doubled yields CII. The simplicity of the clue threw me.

- I did not know that a member of the Proletariat is a PROLE (22a - Society peon)

- My sons and I used to love to go to DRIVE-INS (15d - Movie house alternatives) in our van - great fun!

- I have a Motorola RAZR M - it's not a FLIP PHONE (1d) but apparently earlier models were.

- The first time I had my pants custom-tailored the seamstress measuring my INSEAMS (54a - Pants length measures) asked me which side I "dressed" on - I had no idea what she meant.

- I don't care what the DICT (40d - Webster's, e.g.; Abbr.) says, GORER (16d - One impaling) is not a word. It is, however, the perfectly good surname of many notable individuals. Of course if Frank had clued it as such, I would have complained about that, too.

- I may start wearing a PANAMA HAT (87d) just because I love the fact that they are made from Jipijapa leaves!

- TEA (46d) and WATER (47d) are both "No-calorie drinks" - cute.

- FGHI (118d - J preceders) made me realize that when I say the Alphabet I have to start at the beginning every time to get it right.

- I wonder if FRED (128a - Lyricist Ebb) Flintstone has ever been in a crossword puzzle?

- OF THE ORGANIZATION (71a - Riddle, part 4) spanning the center of the grid gives the puzzle a slightly "Mafioso" feel.

- no self-respecting CPA would stoop to preparing a 1040EZ (45d) - it would be assigned to a lowly assistant, or perhaps the cleaning lady, but the client would still be charged the full fee for "professional services rendered".

- No MORE (51d - Additional) - I can't stand it! How did I END UP (89a - Result) here anyway?

Hey Frank, I found your MISSING PERSIANS!:




Sunday, December 22, 2013

The tibia parallels the fibula (fun fact from the puzzle)


The "breaking story" on today's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo, titled Breaking Story, is that there is none. When I first read the title I thought Frank might use the grid in some ingenius way that would "break a story" in the sense of reporting on a news item (from thenewsmanual.net: "A breaking story is a news story which is still happening as you report it.")  or in the screenwriting sense (screenwriting.io: "Breaking story is mapping out a story and coming up with a logically and dramatically consistent beginning, middle, and end, and the major checkpoints therein.") Frank A. Longo is entirely capable of creating a puzzle that does fantastic things like that, but today's grid is not one of them.

I had the first two theme answers in place when I stopped to study them to see if I could figure out the theme and it didn't take very long to see that both answers contained the word "story", split between the beginning of the long answer and the end. So, Frank's breaking "story" is merely breaking the word in two and sticking the two parts on either end of the theme answers, thus:

23a - SCIENCE LABORATORY (Place for test tubes)
32a - STORAGE FACILITY (Warehouse or silo, e.g.)
48a - SELF CONGRATULATORY (Saying "Yay, me!," say)
68a - STONE QUARRY (Place for excavating building rock)
86a - STORM OF CONTROVERSY (Uproar over a disputed matter)
105a-SPOILS OF VICTORY (Winner's loot)
117a-STEADY STATE THEORY (Obsolete hypothesis about the universe's origin) (Frank stuttered a little there)

Now I don't mean to in any way denigrate the puzzle just because the theme didn't wow me with its creativity - obviously I had set my expectations too high. I was prepared to be AMAZED (11d - Blown away) by the theme, and I still expect to be ONE DAY (60d - Eventually), just not today.  As split word puzzles go, I think this is a pretty good one.  The long answers are all really good phrases that match their clues perfectly and it must have been difficult to find examples of the right lengths to provide the perfect symmetry in the grid for which Frank is famous. A file letter word can only be split in four different places and Frank used them all so we can't be certain where the break will come in any given answer. We do know, though, that every long answer will begin with S and end with Y so once the theme is apparent those letters can go in automatically, which helps a little. Only the last theme answer gave me any pause when it came to filling it in because if I have ever heard of the Steady State theory of the origin of the universe I must have forgotten it, because I needed wiki (post-solve) to learn this: "In cosmology, the Steady State theory is a now-obsolete theory and model alternative to the Big Bang theory of the universe's origin (the standard cosmological model). In steady state views, new matter is continuously created as the universe expands, thus adhering to perfect cosmological principle. While the steady state model enjoyed some popularity in the first half of the 20th century, it is now rejected by the vast majority of professional cosmologists and other scientists, as the observational evidence points to a Big Bang-type cosmology and a finite age of the universe." I love learning new stuff from the puzzle.

As to the non-theme fill, I had never heard of LEELEE (73a - Sobieski of "Max") but she became my favorite answer when google led me to this (which is R-rated so if you are easily offended by such things you might want to ABSTAIN (91d - Not partake) from watching):

Phew, where was I? Oh, yeah - the puzzle. I thought it was serendipitous to discover Bears Hall of Famer Gale SAYERS (59d) almost directly atop SAY YES (104d - Agree (to)) - it's almost like Frank placed a little REPRISE (92d - Musical echo) in the grid. Also, Frank tips his TAM (16a - Cap for a Scot) to Festivus for the rest OF US ( 87d - "That makes two __!") which is celebrated on December 23. (What - you don't know about Festivus?! Well here's the story (from wiki): "Festivus, a well-celebrated parody, has become a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 which serves as an alternative to participating in the pressures and commercialism of the Christmas holiday season. Originally a family tradition of scriptwriter Dan O'Keefe working on the American sitcom Seinfeld, the holiday entered popular culture after it was made the focus of a 1997 episode of the program. The holiday's celebration, as it was shown on Seinfeld, includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum "Festivus pole," practices such as the "Airing of Grievances" and "Feats of Strength," and the labeling of easily explainable events as "Festivus miracles."
The episode refers to it as "a Festivus for the rest of us", referencing its non-commercial aspect."
There's also a mini-MOTIF (12d - Recurring subject) involving the more traditional holiday this week, with Christmas carol opener O COME ( 69d) and Ave MARIA ( 109a) both making an appearance. Clearly Frank was in a holiday spirit when he constructed the puzzle.

Not a lot else caught my attention (but that might be because LEELEE kind of distracted me). I did enjoy being reminded that MOLDER (58d - Crumble into particles) is a perfectly good word that I had forgotten about, and I always enjoy seeing Machu PICCHU (2d) in the grid just because I love the way it looks. I only had one MEA Culpa (22a) moment while solving, when I forgot how the French pluralize (or plural-ISE, if you are British - 121a) words so I started out with ADIEUs (3d - Farewells, in France) until the crossword set me right.

I always sign off with a video suggested by something in the grid and today there are plenty of opportunities with Perry COMO (35d), the musical "Grease" (101d), Kathy MATTEA (45d) and Mötley CRÜE all vying for attention, but Frank ended with a KISS (128a - Give lip to?, which is my favorite clue) and so will I.




Monday, December 16, 2013

A Puzzle Plentifully Populated with Prolific Proper Personages


There are many, many areas of knowledge in which I am woefully deficient, and geography proper-name personages are among them. So if you combine those two fields of knowledge to make a theme for a crossword puzzle you can be pretty much assured that I am going to have trouble with it, and that is exactly what the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo, titled "City Folks", does. At least the theme answers were limited to U.S. geography so I have some basic familiarity with the topic and thus stood a chance of finishing the grid without help.

All of the long theme answers combine cities whose full name includes a person's first name, which are identified in the clues by their location in their state, with the last names of more or less well-known individuals who share a first name with the city so we wind up with a list of "City Folks", clued wackily like this:

23a - LAKE CHARLES DARWIN (Naturalist from southern Louisiana?)
32a - YORBA LINDA HUNT (Actress from southern California?)
40a - FORT WAYNE GRETZKY (Hockey player from northern Indiana?)
64a - WEST JORDAN KNIGHT (Singer from northern Utah?)
75a - SAINT PAUL GAUGUIN (Painter from southern Minnesota?)
97a - LITTLE ROCK HUDSON (Actor from central Arkansas?)
108a-EAU CLAIRE DANES (Actress from western Wisconsin?)
121a-MOUNT VERNON CASTLE (Dancer from southern New York?)

As I said, geography is not my forte but I have at least heard most of the cities although I certainly could not have named all of them from the information in the clues. As for the "famous" people I have heard of only four out of the eight names (the naturalist, hockey player, painter and actor) so I was at a handicap from the outset, but that's what the crosswords are for, right?

In the end I managed to mostly figure things out but there was one crossing of two proper names that forced me to rely on a guess to finish the puzzle, and I never like that. I did not know that there is a city in northeastern Orange County, California named YORBA but the crosses were all fair enough and I was sure I had the name right.  I did not know that LINDA HUNT "is an American film, stage and television actress best known for her role as Henrietta Lange in the CBS series NCIS: Los Angeles (from wiki), so when getting her name depended on knowing "Israel's Barak" (30d) I knew that I was in trouble. EHUD is not a name that jumps to mind and I call foul on that crossing of the two names since ElUD/LINDAlUNT is equally plausible. I now see that EHUD also crosses "Pulitzer winner Alison" LURIE (39a) and "Häagen DAZS" (47a) so there was all kinds of room for mischief in that area - that kind of proper name mash-up is not a good thing, I think.

Enough about the theme answers. The rest of the grid was pretty unremarkable but as always Frank sprinkled in some nice touches to appreciate:

-YOKE ( 43d - Oxen holder) appears symmetrically opposite YOLK (46d - Egg part) - that was not an accident.
-The upper right corner of the grid seems like a shout-out to the fairer sex with EPIDURAL (16d - Childbirth anesthetic), FEMINIZE (17d - Make girlish) and GIANTESS (18d - 50-foot woman, say) occupying the long down answers.
-ATEAT (20a - Rankled) and TIT (122d - Trade for tat) might have been cross-referenced, but they weren't.
-Does a MCRIB (103a - Golden Arches pork sandwich) contain any actual meat, I wonder?
-ECLAT (114 - Conspicuous success) is also the name of a Lotus automobile model - that seems strangely appropriate.
-You don't roll ONES (118d 0 Low dice roll) - you roll "Snake-eyes".
-I'm glad Franks specified "Colored ring of the iris" for AREOLA (21a) because I always think of this definition (from Dictionary.com): Areola definition, a ring of color, as around the human nipple.
-Hmm, do you think that last bullet combined with the ATEAT/TIT comment above might suggest I have a fetish?
-BLAMMO (104d - "Kapow!")?
-"CAN'T WE all just get along?" (24d) - really, CAN'T WE?
-"Singer from northern Utah":





Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hug and kisses (XOXO) abound in this puzzle!



Today's Premier Crossword by Frank A Longo is titled "X-Tensions" and as soon as I read it I guessed that we were somehow going to add the letter "x" to words or phrases to create wacky new words or phrases, and I confirmed my guess by reading the clue for the first long theme answer, "Jungle guy who loves high points?" and I knew instantly that "ape" was going to become "apex" and when I discovered that TARZANTHEAPEXMAN fit perfectly I wrote it in the grid with no crosses whatsoever! That was so easy I decided to try the rest of the theme clues before I started the rest of the puzzle and I managed to guess five of the nine answers correctly. I was able to get the others with only a few crosswords filled in, except the last one which totally baffled me even when I had most of the letters in place. I eventually managed to get that one, too, but it took a post-solve google session before I understood the key term in order to get the joke. Here are the "X-Tensions" that occupy the completed grid:

23a - TARZAN THE APEX MAN (Jungle guy who loves high points?)
35a - DON'T BE LATEX (Plea from an allergic person to a pair of gloves?)
41a - FLUX SEASON (Period of constant change?
61a - FUNERAL PYREX (Glassware for a burial urn?)
72a - ROLEX REVERSAL (Luxury watch moving counter-clockwise?)
81a - ANNEX FRANCIS (Take sailor Drake for oneself?)
97a - BITTER ALEX (Writer Haley holding a grudge?)
109a-CHEX GUEVERA (Cuban revolutionary who loves cereal?)
122a-REDOX FROM SCRATCH (Chem lab reaction all over again?)

I have mixed feelings about these as I thinks some work really well while a couple are a real stretch, and one is just plain unfathomable unless you happen to know this definition of "redox", which I did not (from wiki): "Redox (reduction-oxidation) reactions include all chemical reactions in which atoms have their oxidation state changed; redox reactions generally involve the transfer of electrons between species." Even knowing this I don't quite see how the new phrase fits the clue but that quibble probably says more about my ignorance than about a fault with the puzzle.

OK then, here are a few thoughts on some of the other fill:

-KCAR ( 6a - 1980s Chrysler line) is going to be unfamiliar to a lot of solvers who are not old enough to remember the energy crisis of the late '70s that induced auto manufacturers to introduce now down-sized vehicles to replace the full-size fuel hogs that we loved so much. They didn't last long and weren't particularly memorable.

-TEXTAD (48d - Classified notice, e.g.) sounds like a totally made-up term and I was ready to call Frank out on it, but Google uses them so they must be legit (from Google.com): "A text ad typically includes a link to your website and a description or promotion of your product or service."

-The clue for EWES is "Baa maids?" (22a) - that's classic Longo and I love it.

-AT ONCE (65d - Immediately) adjacent to NOT NOW (66d - "Some other time") is awesome juxtaposition and I'm sure it was no accident.

-I have heard of "interns" but until today I did not know there are also EXTERNS (101d - Nonresident doctor), so I looked it up (from Merriam-Webster.com): : " a person connected with an institution but not living or boarding in it; specifically: a nonresident doctor or medical student at a hospital."

-Speaking of PAPALISM (32a - System of pontiffs), I'm not Catholic but I really like the new Pope (Frank missed an opportunity to get him in the PUZZLE in the clue to ANNEX FRANCIS.)

-SALAAM (64d - Respectful bow) crossing ACOLYTE ( 86a - Altar boy) is a nice multi-denominational religious pairing.

-I think that I follow the news pretty closely but somehow I missed the announcement that ALBERT II (90d - Belgian king who abdicated in 2013) had stepped down.

-OCTA (1d - Bi- x four) and AGRI (27a - Farming prefix) are words that I always wait for the cossword to provide the last letter because they both can end in "o", too.

-Speaking of ending in "o", the grid contains a lot of words that do just that: ORO, PINTO, SLO, REPO, ASK TO, ATO, SAI, EL PASO, EXO, BRO - I may have missed some, but you get the idea.

-There are also quite a few words in the grid that start with "o"; you can find them yourself. There are even more that contain the letter - what does it mean, I wonder?

-Patsy Cline clues make me happy:




Sunday, December 1, 2013

Playing the scale - a simple Étude


The Premier Crosssword by Frank A. Longo is titled "Opening Notes" and as is sometimes the case that turns out to be a literal description of what's going on with the theme answers in the grid. Today we are asked to add the eight notes of the scale to (more or less) common phrases to create wacky new phrases, clued "?"-style. So in the end we wind up with these eight long answers symmetrically arranged (of course) in the grid:

23a - DOMAIN OBJECTIVE (King's goal for his realm?)
32a - REMEMBER DIRECTORY (Recall the contents of an address book?)
49a - MISLED DOG RACER (Competitive greyhound trainer who's been duped?)
62a - FASTING LIKE A BEE (Going without food as drones do?)
74a - SOWING FORMATION (Pattern in which seeds are planted?)
88a - LABORED TO TEARS (Toiled so much that you cried?)
106a-TIRED BULL AND VODKA (Two things seen in the toros' tavern after a grueling corrida?)
119a-DONATION OF ISLAM (Gift from mosque clerics?)

All of the base phrases are common enough to be easily obtained, except maybe "Red Bull and vodka" - what the hell is that?! I know young people today love high sugar/caffeine drinks as an energy drink, and I guess you can mix vodka with just about anything so such a combination is certainly possible, but is it something people really order? Well according to wiki, apparently it is: "Vodka Red Bull (also known as Vodka and Red Bull, VARB, VRB, VKRB, Red Bull and Vodka, RBV, Speedball, Vod-Bomb, Vod Bull, Voddy Red, Russian Bull, Echo, or a Peterson) is an alcoholic beverage consisting of energy drink Red Bull and varying amounts of vodka.[1] It is popular among 18- to 30-year olds in bars and nightclubs around the world." Live and learn, I guess. On the other hand "sting like a bee"reminds me of this classic moment from days gone by:

Readers may remember, or more likely may have learned from their history lessons, that Cassius Clay created quite a stir when he adopted the Nation of Islam and became Muhammed Ali.

Frank A Longo often manages to sneak a linguistics lesson into the puzzle and today he takes the opportunity to teach us that "Like L and R, in phonetics" is SONORANT (17D), which freedictionary.com defines thus: "n. - A usually voiced speech sound characterized by relatively free air flow through the vocal tract and capable of being syllabic, as a vowel, liquid, or nasal."  That same source defines ELIDE (33d) as: "tr. v. - a. To omit or slur over (a syllable, for example) in pronunciation. b. To strike out (something written)."  Frank clued it as "Skip over, as a vowel" I suppose I could insert a clip from "My Fair Lady", but you get the idea.

Here are some miscellaneous thoughts on some other non-theme fill:

- I wanted 1a (Person bearing witness) to be ATTESToR and I might have left that wrong letter in had I not known from doing lots of crossword puzzles that "Old name for Tokyo" is EDO (7d) so that mistake was averted.
- I recently switched my Internet service from my old cable provider to a DSL LINE (47a - High-speed Net provider) from my phone company. I'm getting more consistent download speed and saving a lot of money.
- I was a MGR (70d - Co. VIP) for a long time but I don't recall ever being considered a "very important person" - that term seems to better apply to CEOs or maybe Directors, not so much for managers.
- TOOTIE (2d - One of the girls on "The Facts of Life") - really??!!
- A DATE ("__which will live in infamy") (55a)  is December 7, 1941:
Please take a moment to remember and reflect on how the events of this date changed the world we live in.
-Is KODAK still a ":Film maker" (83d), I wonder? (Apparently so.)
-I misread the clue for 110d as " Some of the Plains people" and so expected the answer to be on or another of the western plains tribes. When AMISH I was somewhat confused, until I reread the clue correctly - oh, Plain people, now I get it.
-I finished the puzzle with one wrong square (again!) - for 86d, "Clemency" I confidently entered LENIENCy and never considered it might be wrong, so when 127a Skating great Sonja HyNIE showed up I thought her name looked strange but stuck with it anyway. Sonja HENIE - I will try to remember her in the future.
-It took me far too long to remember CARLOS (103d - Musician Santana) so I'll make up the slight to him by closing with this:





Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wall Street is not just greedy - it's RAPACIOUS!


(THE GRID REPRODUCED HERE CONTAINS AN ERROR - PLEASE SEE COMMENTARY!)

This week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is titled 'Am I Blue' and the first thing I noticed was that it lacked a question mark even though a question seems impied - that's curious, I think. A quick scan of the clues revealed a dearth of ?s there, too so apparently no wacky cluing is involved; I wonder what Frank A. Longo is up to?

I launched into the puzzle without any understanding of what the theme might be, but that's OK because I like surprises and I was sure Frank would reward us with some zaniness or groan-inducing puns - I have come to expect that of his puzzles. My anticipation grew as I worked my way to the first ling theme answer, but when I arrived there the clue was straight-forward and the answer, which was easy enough to get from the crosses I had already filled in, was a literal response with nothing apparent to set it apart from the rest of the grid except its length. And so it went as I worked my way through three more long answers without any sort of theme revealing itself - this is not typical Longo fare, methinks.

The top half of the grid was nearly complete and I was still operating in the dark theme-wise when I came upon the clue that Frank had inserted to reveal the theme smack-dab in the center of the grid: "Eight of their names are featured in this puzzle" (74a). I had enough letters in place to see the answer was "the(something)" but no idea as to what it could be. I already had half of the answers in place but no common feature jumped out at me and the title was still no help. I continued on with the solve and with a couple more letters from crosswords the answer became all too obvious, and I groaned - it was not a good groan like a really bad pun might elicit, either. THESMURFS - I doing a crossword puzzle that has the names of eight of the friggin' Smurfs! I didn't even know the Smurfs had names for crissake! It's a good thing I at least knew they are blue or the whole concept of the puzzle might have eluded me (I'm not sure that would have been a bad thing).  So there you have it - I worked my way to the bottom of the grid and in the process produced the eight names:

23a - HANDYREFERENCE (Thesaurus on one's desk, say)
37a - PAPAJOHNS (Pizza Hut alternative)
39a - VANITYMIRROR (Item on many a dressing table)
56a - GREEDYPAWS (Repacious mitts)
86a - HEFTYCHUNK (Pretty large portion)
104a-CHEFBOYARDEE (Pasta-can man)
107a-LAZYSUSAN (Revolver in a pantry)
124a-GROUCHYLADYBUG (Eric Carle kids' book, with "The")

I have to admit I'm guessing that those are the name that I've highlighted in blue; for all I know there could be Smurfs named John, Paws, Chunk, Ardee, Susan or Lady. I think I have them right though, based on this which I learned from wiki (post-solve): "There are more than one hundred Smurfs, whose names are based on adjectives that emphasize their characteristics..."  Gee, with that many possible theme answers from which to choose Frank could do a whole collection of puzzles with the same theme (I'm not suggesting that would be a good idea, just that he could). Needless to say, the theme was no help whatsoever in solving the puzzle but at least the clues were plain enough to get the answers without knowing anything about Smurfs, which in my case at least is a very good thing. I especially liked "Rapacious mitts" because I often complain about "greedy" people and now I can use a new word in my tirades. "Pasta-can man" made me smile too, because it's a totally fun way to remind me of the canned pasta-like substance that my elementary school often served for "hot lunch". I seem to recall it was one of my favorite meals at the time.

Since I solved this as a non-theme puzzle I should probably say a few things about the rest of the fill.
The first thing I noticed and I like a lot is that Frank placed HUNGJURY (15d - Cause for a mistrial) right alongside ONAPPEAL (38d - How some court cases are won) - that's a neat juxtaposition, I think. My nautical side enjoyed seeing ADRIFT (67d - Not moored) and the nearby LOST (61d - All at sea) because I've been one or the other of those things most of my life - hey, if I were a Smurf either one could be my name!

OUCH - I just discovered mistake in my grid. The crossing of 70d (Pipette, e.g.) and 79a (Abstract sculpture with no moving parts) should be a B, not an n, so the answers are TUBE/STABILE. The sad thing is, I know what a pipette is from having my finger stuck by the Red Cross on a regular basis; the tendency to rush and not thoroughly check my answers  is a BADHABIT (91d - Vice) that I have yet to overcome, so I often finish a puzzle with one (or more) wrong squares. I guess I haven't become the OLDPRO (8a - Seasoned veteran) as a cruciverbalist that I sometimes think I am.

Miscellaneous other stuff:

- the ZAGAT (109d - Big name in restaurant guides)/BIGEYE cross was problematic because neither term was familiar enough to jump immediately to mind.
- FINITELY (68d - So as to be countable) is a legitimate adverb but it sure seems like it would be hard to use in normal conversation.
- another possible Smurf name for me could be ANALOG ( 115a - Counterpart to digital) - I often describe myself as an analog man in a digital world (I know it's not original, but it's accurate).
- CRUELER (20a - More vicious) is correct as the comparative term but "more cruel" sounds better to me. I don't know why that is.
- FUNMONEY (3d - Extra cash to play with) is a fun term.
- Frank's Latin friend Ovid makes two appearances: CVII (81a - Ovid's 107), right next to ECCE (82a - Ovid's "Lo!") (they could be said to ABUT (90a - Be beside) one another.
- The clue immediately preceding Ovid was "Amo, amas, I love __" (ALASS - 80a) - I think Frank was trying to trick us there. Ooh, I just noticed another term Ovid would use right in the same section of the grid: CUM (83d Magna__laude) crosses ECCE. I think Frank is showing off.
- NAN (100d - Bread eaten with vindaloo) crossing NOH (113a - Yokohama drama) was kind of a crap shoot because I don't know much about Indian cuisine or Japanese theater. In fact, when I google "NAN",  nothing bread-related comes back; when I add "bread" to the query it first gives me replies for "Naan bread" - it took some persistence to finally get hits for "Nan bread".
I've been called a "naysayer" but never a "YEASAYER" (87d - Always-agreeing sort).
- I noticed very few proper names (other than the Smurfs, of course) - that's a feature I can GRINAT (14d - Give a smile).

Here's a video inspired by the puzzle - I'll leave it to you to figure out why:





Sunday, November 17, 2013

Solving a crossword puzzle the "wrong" way


The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo this week is titled "Picture of Ancient Conflict". I found that to be unhelpful in determining what the puzzle's gimmick might be, but a quick glance at the clues revealed that a riddle is involved so OK, game on.

I attacked the grid in my by-the-numbers, left to right, top to bottom fashion, an approach which another blogger recently  denounced as "wrong", and for the first time in a long time (maybe forever) I made it through the entire grid with no mistakes or write-overs - the results are displayed above. I'm so proud. Anyway, when it's complete the puzzle produces the following seven part riddle and its answer:

23a - If there were a movie
31a - about a civil war
49a - among members
65a - of a certain old
73a - Germanic tribe
88a - what would be a
104a-good title for it?

117-Clash of the Teutons!

So there you have it - it's a pun, for sure, but one that relies on the solver knowing two bits of trivia in order to "get it". First, if your knowledge of early European history is lacking you may have had to get "Teutons" entirely from the crosses, which is easy enough to do but it detracts from the effectiveness of the  gag if you didn't know this (from wiki): "The Teutons (Latin: Teutones, Teutoni) were a Germanic tribe[1] mentioned by Greek and Roman authors, notably Strabo and Marcus Velleius Paterculus. According to a map by Ptolemy, they originally lived in Jutland, which is in agreement with Pomponius Mela, who placed them in Scandinavia (Codanonia).[2] Rather than relating directly to this tribe, the broad term, Teutonic peoples or Teuton in particular, is used now to identify members of a people speaking languages of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family generally, and especially, of people speaking German." 

The other vital bit of knowledge for the pun to make any sense at all is familiarity with the term "Clash of the Titans" which is a grandiose term for a war among gods or powerful forces. It's often used today to mean any conflict between dominant parties be they sports teams or business competitors, but here's a pretty lucid explanation of its origins (provided by a contributor to a question on ask.com): "The Titans are at war, "clashing" together. Therefore clashing together . This has been the title of video games and various movies that I know of. The titans were a race of extremely powerful deities. Tending to be descendants of Gaia and Uranus (I lol'd...) In the first generation of twelve Titans, the males were Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus, Cronus, Crius and Iapetus and the females were Mnemosyne, Tethys, Theia, Phoebe, Rhea and Themis. The second generation of Titans consisted of Hyperion's children Eos, Helios, and Selene; Coeus's daughters Leto and Asteria; Iapetus's sons Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoetius; and Crius's sons Astraeus, Pallas, and Perses." OK, you don't need to know all that to get the pun but it's pretty interesting stuff, I think.

Enough about the theme and the riddle - if you know Roman history and Greek mythology you got it but if you don't, maybe it left you scratching your head.

As to the rest of the fill in the grid, I didn't mark one single clue as an indication of something I need to comment on -  not one! Let's see, I see we have a KAISER (124a - Pinwheel-shaped roll) below the theme answers so that adds emphasis to the Germanic aspect of the theme so that's a nice touch. Then there's MARCO (9d - Traveler Polo) at the top of the grid and his world travels could have been affected by a Teutonic civil war so let's include him as adding to the richness of the theme. Wait, there's more! Constellation Cygnus THESWAN (16d) comes from Greek mythology so surely there's a tie-in to the Titans there. It's a bit of a stretch but ASTRO (98a - Prefix with physics) could also refer to the Greek and Roman astronomers who named all those constellations where the gods reside, so I'll throw that in too. Apparently there's more to like than I thought - I just had to look a little harder to find it.

Other stuff upon further reflection on the grid:

-MITOSES (26a - Methods of cell division) and PAPILLAE (87d - Bumps that contain taste buds) are pretty wonky biology terms but for some reason I knew them - kudos to Mr. Tucker, my biology teacher circa 1960.
- TV "Drag Race" host RUPAUL - never heard of him or his show but I just learned that it's a whole different thing from what I had in mind (from wiki): "In mid-2008, RuPaul began producing RuPaul's Drag Race, a reality television game show which aired on Logo in February 2009. The premise of the program has several drag queens compete to be selected by RuPaul and a panel of judges as "America's next drag superstar". Oh, the kind of drag with GLITTER (61d - Bits of sparkly stuff) - that thought never even crossed my mind!
-MAFIA (68a - Mob group) crossing ICE (70d - Bartender's "rocks") seems gruesomely fitting.
-PELF (45d - Ill-gotten wealth) is a new word to me - I like it.
- AEIOU ( 66d - Alphabet quintet) - I was expecting this to be a run of letters, not a list of vowels so that was a nice surprise. It's too bad Frank A. Longo didn't include "Y" to make it a SEXTET (127a - Trio plus three).
- IRRUPTS is another new word to me that required all the crosses, so I was glad to learn this from the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary: "Irrupt" and "erupt” have existed as discrete words since the 1800s. Both are descendants of the Latin verb "rumpere," which means "to break," but "irrupt" has affixed to it the prefix "ir-" (in the sense "into") while "erupt" begins with the prefix "e-" (meaning "out"). So "to irrupt" was originally to rush in, and "to erupt" was to burst out. Good to know.
-Having Actress Maryam d'ABO (12d) (never heard of her) in the grid reminds me I am still working on yesterday's NY Times puzzle with the clue "A or O, but not B" - the answer is four letters and I think the second one is "L" - anyone know the answer as I could use some help?
-NODOUBT (60d - "Absolutely") I could go on without much EFFORT (101d - Exertion) but I don't want to BEAT (77d - Rhythm) the puzzle (or your sensibilities) to death so I'll leave you with this:
(Inspired, of course, by the eponymous Reverend famous for swapping sounds SPOONER (115a).)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

POP POPULARITY



"Not Noteworthy" is the title of this week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo and since I don't think the constructor is given to self-deprecation I suspected right away that it wasn't meant to be taken literally. It turns out to be, in actual fact, a perfect example of exactly what is going on with the long theme answers in the grid, so the title is illustrative, not descriptive. The title and all of the theme answers consist of two word phrases where the first three letter word is repeated at the beginning of the second, longer word:

23a -  DIG DIGITIZING (Really get into making electronic scans?)
33a - HOT HOTELIER (Conrad Hilton with a fever?)
41a - PIE PIERCING (Cobbler cutter's job?)
58a - RED REDUCTION (Decrease in sunburn severity?)
69a - APE APERITIF (Gorilla's pre-dinner drink?)
78a - HUG HUGUENOTS (Embrace old French Protestants?)
93a - SAY SAYONARA (Bid a Toyko resident farewell?)
103a-DOC DOCILITY (Meekness of medics?)
118a-YOU YOUNGSTERS (How senior citizens address teens?)

NOT NOTEWORTHY - It's pretty obvious once you see the gimmick, which I did as I came to the first long answer, and once you know what's going on it greatly simplifies the solving process because letters become "two-fers" - when you  have one in either word you can write it in the corresponding position of the other word. In fact, the long theme answers were a lot easier for me than much of the other fill.

I got off to a bad start in the upper left hand corner of the grid where Golfer Mark OMEARA (20a) crossed "EADIE Was a Lady" (1933 hit song) (2d) - in fact I forgot to go back to fill in the missing letter (which I might or might not have guessed right) but I didn't notice I had left it blank until I copied the solution here. In the top central section Snake-haired Gorgon MEDUSA (7a)  crossing mentalist URI Geller (10d) was temporarily problematic, and then I had to make a guess where AGRIPPA, the General who advised Augustus (13a) shared a letter with ANCHO chile (kind of pepper) (13d) - and that was before I even got to the first theme clue!

The center section of the grid didn't pose many problems (other than not being sure how to spell "Huguenots") but I got back into trouble in the bottom sections. Both ends of the old French region ALSATIA (121A) were crossed by proper names with painter Edgar DEGAS (103d) in front and "The Compleat Angler" writer IZAAK Walton bringing up the rear. ELLA Raines of "The Web" crossing LORI Singer of film was easy enough to guess but I have never heard of either woman. There were lots of other proper names down there but happily I was familiar with most of them they didn't cause any difficulty. ATHENA (123a - She's a deity of wisdom) provided a nice flourish from Greek mythology to counter-balance the ugly Gorgon at the top of the grid.

Looking back at my problem areas I see that most of my difficulties were VOCALIC (92d - Like A, E, I, O and U), a word which I just learned from thefreedictionary.com: "adj. 1. Containing, marked by, or consisting of vowels. 2. Of, relating to, or having the nature of a vowel." I wanted the word to be VOweLIC until the crosswords set me right.

Having "Edward I" playwright George PEELE (18d) and PEELER (126a - Paring tool) together in the grid seems a little like cheating to me - on the other hand it might provide the basis for the theme in another puzzle.

Random Roman Numeral crossing:  Second-cen. pope ST PIUS (57d) meets the last of a tetralogy PART IV (61a) I'm sure AGRIPPA would approve (because he was, you know, Roman.)

Possible mini-theme: CELEBS (1a - Film stars, e.g.): Mark OMEARA, ANI DiFranco, VANNA White, MUGSY (maybe he doesn't count because he's a cartoon?) Kofi ANNAN, Jane Fonda of KLUTE, ELLA Raines and LORI Singer (whom we've already met), ARNE Duncan (who?), Herb ALPERT, Peter OTOOLE, and my favorite sea serpent NESSIE.  There may be more - feel free to list them in the comment section.

CANST (105D - Art able to) - REALLY???!!!

ARGOTS (12d - Local lingoes) - from vocabulary.com: "Argot is language particular to a specific group. It can mean a kind of slang, a technical language or a code." I did not know that.

ADIEU (47d - "Farewell") - see you next week.




Sunday, November 3, 2013

Here's a puzzle that will "tick" you off!



Today the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo is, both by title and quite literally, Bug-Infested. I've been doing these puzzles for quite a while now and I think today's presentation may achieve a new high, or possibly low depending on one's point of view, of punniness. As evidence of the reasons for this judgment, I present the following theme answers:

23a - BEETLEOFHASTINGS (Insect from East Sussex?)
34a - APHIDREADER (Insect enjoying a novel?)
43a - LOVEANTMARRIAGE (Think it's terrific when insects wed?)
65a - BLACKEYEDBEE (Insect with a shiner?)
72a - SHIPPINGFLEA (Insect mailing a package?)
90a - BIGGERFISHTOFLY (More sizable lake swimmer, from an insect's perspective?)
100a-SEENOWEEVIL (Don't notice an insect?)
112a-ROACHFORTHESTARS (Insect that's an agent to celebrities?)
124a-ASSONANT (Biggest part of a certain insect?)

So the theme seems to be insect names that can be substituted for a word in a common phrase to change it into a wacky new phrase with a whole new meaning, but I would call the resulting puns inconsistent at best. I think APHID READER and SEE NO WEEVIL work pretty well because they sound almost exactly like the referenced phrase, and I guess I would say the same for LOVE ANT MARRIAGE, BLACK-EYED BEE and BIGGER FISH TO FLY.  A listener could actually hear those said aloud and not notice the difference.  So OK, more than half seem to work without too much of a stretch of imagination; the others, not so much I think. SHIPPING FLEA needs and extra sound to make it work but I might still give it a CEE (33a - Ho-hum grade) as a pun. BEETLE OF HASTINGS and ROACH FOR THE STARS on the other hand are not quite detestable ( a term suggested by 1a) but they definitely don't get a passing grade because the bugs don't even sound a little like the word for which they substitute, they just share some common letters with it. 

Punny content aside, the symmetry of the long answers within the grid is a beautiful thing to behold, and having ASTRA (104d - "Ad ___per aspera") pass through the middle of ROACH FOR THE STARS is a touch of construction genius, since the word literally means "stars" in Latin (but you already knew that). I've learned, too, that Frank can be quite crafty and slip bonus theme answers into the puzzle so I was not surprised to spot another bug at 60d where an "Irking insect" PEST is lurking.  I like that kind of thing enough to overlook a couple of clumsy puns so I think this was overall a pretty good puzzle (my title not withstanding).

I struggled briefly in a couple of sections of the grid. The upper left corner eluded be for a while because I decided at the outset that 1d (Bathing spot) must be "spa" and with those wrong letters firmly in place the section became far more difficult than it had to be. I had completed the rest of the grid when I finally reconsidered and realized that TUB was a better answer and everything else fell into place. Down in the bottom left, I had to make a guess at the crossing of AMERINO (89d - Italian explorer Vespucci) and ELMONT (95a - Triple Crown town on Long Island); my knowledge of Italian explorers is sorely deficient and I do not generally follow horse racing - I have heard of the Belmont Stakes but I had to do a post-solve google search to learn this little factoid: (Wiki) "Elmont is famous as the home of Belmont Park which hosts the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the prestigious Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing." Now I know.

It's a good thing Frank clued NOONE (69a) as "Opposite of everybody" or its central placement in the grid might have inspired me to subject you to this:
I'll bet that really would have ticked you off.

I hope y'all come back next week!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How to increase your bust-size from a B-cup to a D-cup



I've often said that I enjoy punny puzzles, so when I saw the title to today's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo, 'Can't You See I'm Dizzy?!', I knew I was going to be in for a treat. I've done enough of Frank's puzzles by now to see right away that the title was a twist on the phrase, "Can't you see I'm busy?" and I figured, correctly as it turns out, that the grid was going to contain recognizable phrases with a letter substitution to make them wacky. When the dust settled and the groaning stopped the theme answers looked like this:

23a - DAZZLERATHBONE (Amaze a Sherlock Holmes portrayer?) (Basil Rathbone)
28a - YEAROFDEARTH (12-month famine?) (Year of Birth)
35a - JAMESDONNED (Singer Brown got dressed) (James Bond)
53a - DECIDETHEPOINT (Determine which team scored?) (Beside the point)
66a - ITSFORTHEDEBTOR (Fact about a consolidation loan?) (It's for the better)
85a - FIREINONESDELI (Sub-shop blaze?) (Fire in one's belly)
98a - CUPIDSDOUGH (Moolah earned by a love god?) (Cupid's Bow)
105a-DURBINSTREET (Road named after singer Deanna?) (Bourbon Street)
116a-DARNEMANDDAILY (What to do to socks that tear every 24 hours?) (Barnum and Bailey)

Some of the puns are a bit of a stretch but kudos to the constructor for coming up with nine phrases that work in the grid and clues that are just literal enough to suggest the answers. Of course some worked better than others and one was just plain tortured but when puns are involved that's what you get. Clearly Frank took out all the stops to create the last one, which has a double substitution of Ds for Bs and has an unexpected contraction - "Darn 'em, and daily" is certainly a literal response to the clue but parsing the phrase correctly was difficult (but worth it).

As to the non-theme fill, there were a few places where I had to guess at the most likely letters because both crosswords were unfamiliar to me. "If I had a __" (Lyle Lovett son) (11d - ABOAT)meeting up with Shire of film (33a - TALIA) doubled down on my profound ignorance of most pop-culture related names, but the T was inferable so fair enough, I guess. That area was further complicated by American avant-garde artist (12d - MANRAY) also penetrating TALIA which required more of a guess as the vowel in question could reasonable have been something other that A. I guess you could say that  I got lucky with TALIA. "Picnic" dramatist William (107d - INGE) cast some doubt on the theme answer he crossed as singer Deanna could spell her name with just about any vowel and still have it rhyme with "bourbon", but again the "I" seemed the most likely fit in both names.

After I had gone through all of the clues and filled in everything I knew (or had a good guess at) I was left with one blank square. I have never heard of the phrase HORNMAD (65d - Very Irate) and "Pittsburgh's Carnegie __ University (81a - MELLON) was also and unknown, but upon further reflection the "N" seemed safe so I crossed my fingers and put it in. Post-solve google  of "horn-mad" reveals it's clue to be dead-on accurate. If, on the other hand, you try it without the hyphen you land here. Take your pick for which usage Frank had in mind.

In a bit of Old Testament juxtaposition, we have Son of Isaac JACOB (35d) symmetrically opposite his grandmother, Mother of Isaac SARAH (78d) - that cannot be an accident. If I understand my Biblical history correctly, they both no doubt spoke HEBREW (1a - Bar mitzvah language).  Now that I think about it, "Antediluvian" (13d- AGEOLD) refers to the flood described in Genesis, so we have yet another reference to the Bible. I think that concludes the Sunday school lesson for today and Noah's Ark gets us nicely back to "If I had a Boat":

(If you expecting Lyle Lovett you'll have to find him yourself - I like this song better.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

No strings attached



The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for 10-20-2013 is titled "Holding the Line". A quick scan of the clues didn't reveal any ?s to indicate wackiness and there was no sign that a riddle was afoot, so I just started solving to see what Frank had in mind. I actually had all of the long answers except the last one in place and I still didn't have any IDEA (32d - Conception) of the significance of the title, but then Frank tied it all together (heh-heh) with the last theme clue/answer:

23a - CHRISTMASLIGHTS (Holiday tree brighteners)
31a - TENNISRACKET (Thing swung on a court)
46a - ARCHERSBOW  (William Tell wielded one)
50a - GRANDPIANO (Nine-footer with 88 keys)
65a - HELIUMBALLOON (Gravity-defying party decoration)
84a - MARIONETTE (Pinocchio, for one)
86a - WORRYBEADS (Rosary's non-religious relative)
98a - WINDOWBLINDS (Alternative to drapes)

111a- STRINGSATTACHED (What eight of this puzzle's answers have)

To me, "holding the line" and "strings attached" are both valid phrases but with totally different meanings. Freedictionary.com says this about the former, "not to exceed a certain limit regarding someone or something" while the latter means, "with special demands or limits" but of course Frank was being literal, not idiomatic. So yes, the eight answers do have strings attached in one way or another but I don't see how you "hold the line" on a tennis racket or a grand piano. To me, a better title would have been "Conditions Apply" to indicate that there are "strings attached" and then the last theme answer clue could have been one more such item. But that's just me.

Other than that probably undeserved criticism of the title/theme connection I liked the puzzle even though I had to make two lucky guesses to finish the grid correctly. At the crossing of "Zorba the Greek" novelist Kazantzakis (100d) and Spanish province capital (103a) I figured an "I" was the most likely vowel and NIKOS/OVIEDO was correct; more troublesome for me was the MIRREN/RNA intersection (93d - "The Queen" star Helen and 104a - Cellular stuff) - either a "d" or an "R" seemed equally plausible. If you give me a 50-50 shot at something I'll guess wrong most of the time but today I got lucky (with regard to the puzzle, at least).

I marked a few items I thought were comment-worthy:

-"Rosary's nonreligious relative" is a great clue for WORRYBEADS and the answer created some wonderful memories. I still have a set of worry beads in my jewelry chest.
- We have a couple of Greek letters, both clued as such, populating the grid: NUS at 5d and CHIS at 107d; nice symmetry (a Longo trademark).
- COTAUGHT (40d - Instructed jointly) in the center of the grid tickles me because of its irregular past tense - it just looks cool.
- MOSEY (45d - Stroll) is a word that isn't used enough.
- I am totally dismayed that I knew IVANA was "Donald's first wife" (99d) without any crosses - apparently some of the useless trivia from doing puzzles is starting to sink in. (That can't be a good thing.)
- "Lacks entity" > ISNT (105d) is priceless! I spent a while scratching my head over that one until the crosses filled it in, then it was a total "DOH!" moment. That's a great clue for an ugly little contraction.
- Frank gave us an ELF (89a - Aide to Santa) and an ANGEL (91a - Holiday tree topper) to go along with our CHRISTMASLIGHTS - do you think he's getting into the holiday mood early this year?

It's time for me to mosey on out of here (do you see what I just did there?) - I'll leave you with this, which I think must be what Frank had in mind when he placed HELIUMBALLOON smack in the middle of the grid:
 
 (Here's the original in German for my family and friends in Augsburg):

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Who's on first?



I usually enjoy it when a theme is helpful in solving the puzzle but I think this week's Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo went a little overboard in that regard. The title of the puzzle is "Vowel Language" and while that phrase is replete with punny possibilities that might have been a lot of fun, it turns out that Frank has created some phrases consisting of three four-letter words which are the same except for a change in the vowel of each word. The phrases are all clued wackily of course, but it must have been a lot harder for Frank to invent the definitions, which are pretty clever themselves, than it is for us to put them in the grid.  When you know that three of the four letters in each word are going to be the same it becomes a pretty easy matter to fill in the answers with just one or two crosses because each consonant can be used in three places. OK, it's easier to show the results than it is to explain them:

23a - PACKPICKPUCK (Group of wolves decide which hockey disk to use?)
33a - LOSTLASTLIST (Misplaced the most recent catalog?)
43a - SPOTSPITSPAT (Notice folks quarreling about a skewer?)
55a - BERNBARNBORN (Farm structure is built in Switzerland's capital?)
78a - MESSMOSSMASS (Put a clump of tree-trunk greenery in disarray?)
89a - CROWCRAWCREW  (Group working on a jackdaw's gullet?)
98a - DECKDOCKDUCK (Knock out a pier-dwelling mallard?)
112-   LEFTLOFTLIFT (Exited the elevator to the high-ceilinged SoHo flat?)

As usual, by the time I arrived at the first theme answer it was all but completely filled in by crosses so I could immediately see what was going on with the theme. In retrospect I wish I had stopped solving the grid systematically and jumped ahead to the rest of the theme clues to see if I could figure out the answers without any crosses. That would have been a good opportunity to match wits with Frank A. Longo and see if my mind is as warped as his, but alas my devotion to my solving routine of going by the numbers led me to MAINTAIN (109a - Preserve) the usual methodology. Looking back at the clues I bet I could have solved most of them. My hindsight is always 20-20.

As for the non-theme fill there's not much that I found exciting. I did pick up a possible mini-theme wherein our constructor first decides to OPINE (39d - Share a view), then to ORATE (66a - Give a big speech) wherein he delivers a SER(mon) (87a - Rev.'s talk) which I'm sure he did ATONALLY (116a - How keyless music is written). It was INVAIN (74a - To no avail) because I'm still not sorry that I TAUNTED (15d - Poked fun at) the puzzle. Alright, I'll stop now.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

- I'm glad I knew VERMILLION (17d - Indiana county whose name is a red color) is a color (but I didn't know it was red) because I don't know the name of any Indiana counties.
- REKEY (7d - Type in anew), ENTER (50d - Register for) and USERACTION (70d) are all things I do as I write this post.
- NBATV (51d - Hoops cable channel) (there's such a thing?), NSYNC (58d - "Bye Bye Bye boy band) (I love alliteration - apparently Frank does, too) and NYSE ( 121a - Where Coca-Cola is "KO")
are all non-words starting with the same letter. That's Nifty.
- I'm never sure how to spell KANYE (100d - West with 21 Grammys) so today I tried KeNYE at first. I do know it's not KeNYa because that would be clued as "Obama's birthplace?" wouldn't it?
- SKINNY (95d - With 8-Down, swims without a suit) DIP (8d - See 95-Down) made me yearn for weather warm enough to permit me to pursue that activity in my pool (it's going to be a long winter, I fear).
- A good puzzle theme would be a quote from (55d - Yankee Yogi) BERRA - he said lots of funny things that I bet Frank could work in to a grid.

Speaking of baseball greats, Major League Baseball (is there an MLBTV cable channel?) has entered the post-season to determine which two teams will play in the World Series (which determines the world-champion team if you define "world" as "North America") so here are  STAN (104d - Funny Laurel) and Oliver Hardy to get you in the mood:


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rockin' Out with Motorhead



The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo this week is titled " 'How About Hat!' " and by the time I arrived at the third long answer it became apparent that the theme involves phrases which include the names of different styles of head wear. In the end we have these theme answers:

23a - PROTEINSKIMMER (Device used ins salt water aquariums)
32a - BUSBYBERKELEY ("For Me and My Gal" director)
41a - PROFESSIONALBOWLER (Person paid for getting strikes)
60a - STETSONUNIVERSITY (Florida school near Daytona Beach)
69a - PANAMACANALTREATY (1977 pact signed by Carter and Torrijos)
92a - TEENIEBEANIEBABIES (Collectible Happy Meal miniatures)
102a-KENTUCKYDERBY (Annual May race)
115a-GOESOVERTHETOP (Exceeds limits (or what each of this puzzle's theme items does?))

Who knew there were so many different styles of hats? Some were very familiar to me - it was Bowler that gave away the theme - and those were helpful in solving the puzzle. For example once I had Stetson in place I could pretty much infer the university part even though I have never heard of that particular institution of higher learning. On the other hand, I didn't immediately recognize Skimmer as a type of head covering but it was the only thing that seemed to fit the clue. I totally blanked on Busby - in fact until I googled post-solve I wasn't certain which of two parts of the director's name represented head wear. As it turns out I should have known it because it's the famous cover of the Palace Guard in merry old England:


I guess my final assessment of the theme would be "unexciting"- my one moment of "AHA" (70d - Finder's cry) came at the very end of the grid, upon discovering that Frank had sneaked one last hat type into the reveal answer at 115a - a doff the cap to him for that pleasant little surprise.


There were a few features of the non-theme fill that caught my fancy. For instance, having YIDDISH (20d - Like "kvetch" or "schmear") and KIBITZERS (83d - Unwelcome advice givers) in opposite corners of the grid was smile-producing for me (and I especially like that he didn't cross-reference them in the clues which he might easily have done). Learning that PEENED (17d) means "Flattened by hammering" was fun because I work in a hardware store and I knew "peen" only in connection with "ball-peen hammer", not as a verb.

There were a couple of spots that gave me trouble, notably in the bottom-left corner where  SEURAT (97d - Painter Georges) crossing AUGUSTE (107a - Artist Renoir) gave me fits (and some solvers may not know Singer Ricky SKAGGS (96d) which could really complicate things down there); and the top-right corner where I finished up - I had misspelled ATTILA (16d - Hun name) and I did not know the Endive type ESCAROLE (13d) so Spanish conquistador Hernando) CORTES  (25a) and MARTINA (29a - Tennis' Navratilova) remained hidden for a long time. It all became obvious when I spotted Atilla sitting there grinning with delight at the mayhem he (or I) had created.

I have nothing MORE (2d - Further) to add so I'll leave you with this:

 
 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Who are you calling "emulative"?!



The Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo for September 29 is titled "Fall Nickname" and a quick scan of the clues quickly reveals that it's a riddle puzzle. I solve the grid methodically from top to bottom and left to right, so by the time I reach a part of the riddle many of the letters are already filled in and it's fun to try to guess the rest of the answer before I fill in more letters from the crosses. Today I was mostly successful at guessing what Frank had in mind, but it did get me into a little bit of trouble that I'll describe later on. One might guess that the title could have something to do with the Fall foliage which is just now turning magnificent in northern New England where I live, and that guess turns out to be correct as when the puzzle is complete we have this riddle and answer:

23a - WHAT DO PEOPLE CALL
29a - A NORTH CENTRAL REGION OF
47a - THE UNITED STATES EACH
67a - AUTUMN WHEN THE
80a - LEAVES ON ALL THE TREES
100a-TURN TO VARIOUS SHADES?

109a-DAKOTA MANY COLORS (insert rim shot here!)

I knew the answer had to be a pun based on a real thing but it took me a few seconds of saying it out loud to come up with "the coat of many colors" which is a real enough phrase but I don't think it will be all that familiar to a lot of solvers. It's origin is in the Bible and it's meaning (like so many things in the Bible) is the subject of some dispute. Rather then wade into that topic of discussion let me point out that "[The] Coat of Many Colors" is also the title of a popular old country song: (per wiki)" "Coat of Many Colors" is the title of a song written and recorded by American singer Dolly Parton, which she has described on numerous occasions as her favorite of the songs she has written." Let's go with that as the inspiration for the puzzle:
 
 
OK, that was unexpected - while I was picking a video of the song I discovered there is also a Grimm's fairy tale by the same name, so I thought you might like to watch that instead.

So, back to the puzzle. With a riddle puzzle the clues are no help in solving the answers but often I can guess a phrase from a few key letters provided by the crosswords. Today the first part of the riddle was nearly complete when I arrived at the clue and the rest of the riddle didn't present many problems until I arrived at 100a, where I had just enough letters in place to think it would start out as "turning" instead of "turn into" - that confused me for a while and it didn't help that 101d, where I had the incorrect letter in place, wanted a Spanish phrase. It all sorted itself out in the end but it surely made for a messy looking grid by the time I figured it all out.

In the end I finished with an error. I'm not a NASCAR fan so "Four-time Indy 500 winner" AJ FOYT (71a) was only vaguely familiar and I misremembered his name as Hoyt, and somehow I convinced my self that UNhILTERABLE could be an obscure word meaning "Too large to be strained, maybe" (60d) and I was prepared to complain that Frank was making up words again but mea culpa. I should also mention that it's an EVEN BET (51d - "50-50 gamble) that  "Guesses at JFK"  will be either ETA or ETd, so I considered AD Hoyt, too, but at least I guessed right on the initial.

There's not much to say about the non-theme fill. I noticed a plethora of proper names, some of them pretty obscure I think, and a couple of the cross one another is always problematic for me but they all filled themselves in from the crosswords so fair enough. I should point out that according to wiki "Nero's wife" (88d) (and also stepsister) is Claudia OCTAVIA so Frank cheated a little: "Claudia Octavia (Classical Latin: CLAVDIA•OCTAVIA[1]) (late AD 39 or early AD 40 – 8 June AD 62) was an Empress of Rome. She was a great-niece of the Emperor Tiberius, paternal first cousin of the Emperor Caligula, daughter of the Emperor Claudius, and stepsister and first wife of the Emperor Nero." (I love learning stuff like that when I do the puzzle.)

In a strange bleed-over from yesterday's New York Times crossword, NEEDY (33d - Indigent) makes an appearance two days in a row. In the NYT it was clued as "Attention-seeking, say" and I never did get the answer - I went with "Nutsy" and stuck with it to the end, so I was glad to get it right today.

I had some wrong guesses that needed to be fixed:

- TIP ONE'S HAT TO (16d - Praise with a cap motion) started out as "a tip of the hat" which was almost right but wrong enough to mess up that whole section of the grid. It all started because I also had "Save" where STOW (15a - Lay away) should be and it all fit together so well.
- I initially had "bite" for NOSH (30d - Little snack) and "fORk" for GORE (36d - Spear) but those were fixed easily enough.
- Having "SucK UP" instead of SOAKUP (95d - Absorb) contributed to my problem seeing TURN INTO which I mentioned above. It was "Mr. Spock's pointy pair" of EARS (106a) that fixed that (and had I written it in when I filled in the cross-referenced clue "Use one's 106a" for HEAR at 56d I could have avoided the problem altogether).

This weeks random Roman Numeral is LIII (84d - Nero's 53). Say, it would have been really, really cool if Frank had clued 88d as "Nero's first" since we learned that Claudia Octavia was in fact his first wife. No, too arcane? Never mind.

You might have guessed that "In dire STRAITS" (95A) would cause me to get this CUED UP (119a - Advanced to the starting point, as a tape) for my musical sign-off:

See you next week!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

White Hall-of-Famers



Today marks the Autumnal Equinox here in the northern latitudes and the Premier Crossword by Frank A. Longo offers us an aptly titled puzzle "First-Class Athletes". As I worked my way across the top of the grid I was able to fill in most of the answers so by the time I came to the first theme clue I had enough of the letters in place to see the name Dale Earnhardt without even reading the clue and I thought, "well, I guess some race fans would call him a first-class athlete but it seems like a stretch to me". When I actually read the clue I discovered the theme was a little more nuanced than just naming famous athletes - it's naming famous athletes who were inducted into the Hall of Fame of their particular sport in its inaugural year. So "first-class" applies in two ways, which made me like the theme a whole lot more.

The first theme clue comes up at 23a and reads, "Inductee in the inaugural year of the...NASCAR Hall of Fame [2010]" and I didn't fully understand the significance of the "..." until later when I discovered that the subsequent theme clues omit the first part of the clue and provide only the part that follows the ellipsis (which I just learned is what the three dots are called). In the end we develop a list of esteemed athletes and discover some historical trivia about them and the hall of fame for their respective sport:

23a - DALEEARNHARDT (Inductee in the inaugural year of the...NASCAR Hall of Fame [2010])
33a - RICHARDSEARS - (...International Tennis Hall of Fame [1955])
43a - PEGGYFLEMING (...World Figure-Skating Hall of Fame [1976])
57a - HONUSWAGNER (...National Baseball Hall of Fame [1936])
66a - AMOSALONZOSTAGG (...Basketball Hall of Fame [1959] and College Football Hall of Fame [1951])
77a - GEORGEHALAS (...Pro Football Hall of Fame [1963])
89a - ARNOLDPALMER (...World Golf Hall of Fame [1974])
97a - BUSTERCRABBE (...International Swimming Hall of Fame [1965])
112a-ROCKYMARCIANO (...International Boxing Hall of Fame [1990])

 
I don't know why I feel compelled to offer this observation about the list of eight men and one woman, but here it is - they are all white. I'll leave it to you to consider what the significance, historical or otherwise, of that fact might be or even if this is any significance. I just thought I'd mention it and it gives me a chance to recommend this to you:


Back to the puzzle. Actually I don't have much to say about the puzzle - it put up a little resistance around the central theme answer since the athlete was totally unknown to me and some of the crosswords took a while to show up. I wasn't certain what "Expiated" (56d) meant so ATONEDFOR needed a lot of help. Then "Tri- plus six" (64d) had me confused as I wasn't familiar with NONA- as a numerical prefix, but it gave me the opportunity to learn this from wiki: "Nona- is unique in that all other technical numerical prefixes used for systematic names, such as mono-, are derived from Greek, while nona- derives from Latin. Greek would be ennea-"  It didn't help having "Singer Susan" ANTON (52d) and "1958 Leslie Caron film" GIGI in there although I eventually recognized both names, and I further complicated matters for myself by having my "Horn sounds" (57d) be tOotS instead of HONKS for too long. Eventually I was able to piece together AMOSALONZOSTAGG though and I was glad to learn about him. All of the other athletes' names were familiar enough to me to go into the grid with on a few crosses in place.

Odds and ends:

- "Like pre-1917 Russia" (13a) could have involved a Tzar, Czar or Csar, too,  so I had to wait to determine that it would be TSARIST. I still had some doubt when I finished the puzzle because the "Fifer's drum" (13d) (TABOR) that provided the initial letter could as easily have been a cABOR for all I knew.  So I learned yet another new word.

- "Joltin' Joe" DIMAGgio (55d) made a guest appearance - he's in the Baseball Hall of Fame too, but he's not a "first-class" athlete for purposes of the puzzle.

- I can think of a lot of definitions for STONER that I think are better than "One pelting" (37a).

- Ooh, there's another hall of famer - "Singer Elvis" PRESLEY (5D) and guess what - he was inducted in the inaugural year of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1983! How cool is that?!

- The LONESTAR STATE is so big it took to clues to get it into the grid (45a -With 99-Down, Texas).

- Here's something I just learned about ROSA (71d -Parks of civil rights): "1983, she was inducted into Michigan Women's Hall of Fame for her achievements in civil rights."  Again, how cool is that?

- OK, I just learned from google that ERLE (79a - Writer __ Stanley Gardner) is in the Bowhunters Hall of Fame. Really, you can read about it at their website: http://www.bowhuntershalloffame.com/members/gardnererlestanley/. Do you suppose Frank A. Longo knew that?

- I was going to complain about a couple of words in the grid but I am so AGOG (69d - Very eager) at all of the hall of fame references that Frank squeezed into the grid that I'm not going to bother. The puzzle just OOZEs (58d - Be seeping) too much cleverness to pick nits about it.

Speaking of Joltin' Joe: